Stats and ratings can be really cruel on players. When a player plays well, he will be made to look quite good through stats and ratings but when he has a bad day, those stats and ratings will make you look like the worst player on the planet. Although the disproportionate emphasis on the negative side is due to perception bias in the minds of the fans, it can feel pretty real for the players too. Ask Emre Can.
Or, just imagine what Paul Pogba must be going through after his terrible performance on Sunday against Manchester United’s arch-rivals Liverpool. Some opposition fans might mock and say “another haircut”, but it is possible that the gifted player behind the dabbing, careless façade might look at this game and say, “it was quite possibly the worst performance of my career”.
He would be justified in thinking that because the stats indeed show that it was his worst of this season at least. His WhoScored rating for the match was 5.38, while his average for the Premier League this season is 7.72. To get to that level of 7.72, Paul Pogba did not have to set the league on fire. He has scored 4 and assisted 3 goals, and the season is already in its second half. An honest assessment would tell us that this season he has been pretty average. He has been doing the basics right but has not achieved anything amazing. However, the stats show him as the fourth-best player in the league, just slightly behind Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho (7.73). His metronome like pass success percentage of 84% deserted him for a day and his rating for the day came down drastically. That is why I say, stats and ratings can be really cruel on players.
But, it also raises the question – just how bad was Paul Pogba’s performance on Sunday? I try to look at some of the other data and stats and understand the answer to this question below.
As I have mentioned before, Pogba’s best performances generally come when he is operating in the left half-space channel. Against Liverpool his heat map is quite spread out. He has many touches in his favored channel and some of them could have been quite productive too – like the pass to Herrera, which resulted in a cross to Ibrahimovic at the far post, early on in the game. However, at other times Pogba seems to have ventured out of his favored zone and I would guess, a large part of his unsuccessful efforts (passes, aerials, tackles, shots etc.) originate in these other areas. Whether it was Liverpool’s game or his own form, Pogba could not operate in the areas he really enjoys.
Earlier in the season, when Man United were struggling a bit, there were many areas where Pogba’s game could be improved but his passing was never suspect. He could have had a terrible game but still his passing success % rarely dived below 80%. In this match, his passing success % was 71%. 14 of his 49 passes did not reach a United player. Now one might say that 14 misplaced passes in a 90 minute game seems a bit less significant but it is possible that many of those 14 passes were adventurous attempts and had they been successful, perhaps the scoreline could be different. You have to give Klopp’s men the credit for this one. They harried the United midfield so much that putting out meaningful passes forward was quite tough for them, especially in the first half. Pogba’s passing was a casualty of Liverpool’s pressing.
Pogba was poor in all other aspects of play as well. He had only two shots in the entire game and both were off target. On an average, this season he shoots 3.4 times per game and gets the ball on target 1.5 times. He attempted to dribble twice and failed on both occasions. Usually he puts in 4.2 dribbles a game and is successful more often than not (2.7 times).
The Big Error
It can happen to anyone but when it happens to the costliest player in the league, the levels of schadenfreude generally go through the roof. It was a simple corner kick, falling to no one in particular, in a melee of red and toxic green. But Pogba chose to ill-time his jump managing to hand the ball in such a manner that it looked as if he was dabbing at an incoming corner kick. Perhaps had his overall performance been better, this error and the resulting goal from Milner would not have felt so bad. But it was like a cherry on the top of a cake for Liverpool fans who tore into the player on Twitter.
Overall one can say that everything that could go wrong with Pogba’s performance on Sunday, did go wrong. He couldn’t pass, couldn’t shoot, couldn’t harry opposition’s midfield and his error is the reason why his side could not muster their eleventh consecutive win. Sunday was certainly a forgettable day for Paul Pogba.